Will Iran, Turkey jointly confront US influence east of the Euphrates?

Al-Monitor | : Turkey is facing a new conundrum in Syria. While its main concern is the areas held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), due to the latter’s links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey has had to prioritize Idlib because of the looming attack on the province, which could jeopardize Ankara’s presence in northern Syria.

Turkey’s stated national security-related reasons for Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017 were reasonable, but its present focus on Idlib is a hard sell — especially to its Iranian and Russian partners on the Astana track. Lacking regional support and necessary leverage in Syria to pursue its objectives both in Idlib and in relation to the SDF, Turkey will likely be enmeshed in the former, disrupting its focus on its primary concern — namely, the situation east of the Euphrates. The Sept. 17 Sochi agreement, which averted a looming operation in Idlib, is a temporary reprieve. To make it permanent, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to fulfill Turkey’s end of the deal: to help establish the agreed-upon demilitarized zone; disarm its allied groups; weed out terrorists; and, by the year’s end, open Idlib’s highways to traffic. Forcing this on militant groups such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the Turkistan Islamic Party and the Guardians of Religion Organization — the main forces in Idlib — is a tough job.

Iran, on the other hand, is prioritizing pushback against the United States east of the Euphrates. Tehran’s objective is to restore the status quo in Idlib — under Turkey’s influence — as well as northeastern Syria, where US forces are based. Reiterating Iran’s commitment to a unified Syria, President Hassan Rouhani said at the Sept. 7 Tehran summit, which gathered his Turkish and Russian counterparts, that “we need to resolve the difficulty east of the Euphrates and force America out.” Earlier this year, Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, stated that “the Axis [of Resistance]’s forces will not allow the gradual lodgment of the US east of the Euphrates,” adding that “sooner or later, the Americans will be forced out.” The unconfirmed reports about Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani having warned US commanders in Syria to leave also falls within the same logic.

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